Ancient Therapy for a Modern World
Gua Sha is a traditional East Asian healing modality that has been used for many centuries to help in the healing of a multitude of common health disorders. Used on its own, or often as a supplement to acupuncture treatment, Gua Sha is a technique whereby the practitioner applies pressure with a thin rounded edge object in unidirectional strokes along a lubricated area of a patient’s skin. An underutilized and under appreciated therapy in the modern world, it has a wide range of traditional functions, and more recently, there have been some very impressive western biomedical research findings that confirm the power and effectiveness of this simple traditional therapy.
Gua Sha is probably most know traditionally for its ability to rapidly resolve many different types of pain syndromes. From a Classical Chinese Medical perspective, gua sha is indicated in the treatment of stagnant blood, or poor blood circulation, among other types of stagnation. Blood stasis is often a component of many pain conditions, including neck, shoulder, arm, back, leg pain, as well as in conditions such as painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea). Other pain disorders that can be effectively treated with gua sha include but are not limited to headaches, chest pain, and pain due to indigestion. When the gua sha therapy is applied, if there is blood stasis in the local tissue being treated, there will be a raising of transitory therapeutic petechiae on the skin. This looks like little red dots right underneath the skin surface, and can often be mistaken for a bruise, which it is not. The color that comes up on the skin during gua sha is direct visual evidence of the blood stagnation and metabolic toxins that have been congesting the tissue coming up to the surface level of the body right below the skin. When this stagnation is pulled out of the tissues, it allows for fresh oxygenated blood to come into the area to aid the healing process. It is not uncommon for people who have had even very chronic pain conditions that have not responded to other therapies to have immediate relief of pain and stiffness at the treatment location and distal to it, along with a return of normal range of motion if this was compromised. It is very satisfying for both the patient and practitioner to witness such immediate and dramatic results. Gua sha also excels in its ability to reduce fever, reduce inflammation in chronic illness, and alter the course of various types of acute infectious ailments. It is indicated in all types of respiratory disorders, including asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cough.
Modern western medical research has identified a number of mechanisms by which gua sha provides such impressive medical benefits. Some of the most intriguing research is a Harvard study which showed that gua sha up regulates gene expression of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), an enzyme that is both an antioxidant and cytoprotectant, at multiple organ sites immediately following and for days after gua sha treatment. The implications of this are profound, given that HO-1 plays a protective role relevant to a wide range of conditions including allergic inflammation, asthma, organ transplant rejection, inflammatory bowel disease, and hepatitis B and C. Effects on HO-1 may therefore explain the benefits that gua sha has shown in a number of clinical research studies of inflammatory conditions (e.g., chronic hepatitis), as well as the wide range of benefits acupuncturists observe routinely in patients with inflammatory conditions. The study by the Harvard group is the first to show both an immediate and a sustained biological immune response from a Chinese medical procedure, and has direct relevance to a wide range of internal organ and inflammatory problems.
The ability of gua sha to effectively treat such a wide array of disorders quickly, safely, and easily should encourage practitioners of all types of healing arts to become familiar and proficient with this therapy. Considered an invaluable technique traditionally in Chinese Medicine, it is unfortunate that more acupuncturists do not utilize this therapy regularly. This is probably due to lack of proper education on the numerous benefits it affords, and also at times, insecurity on the part of the practitioner to administer a therapy that leaves very temporary markings on the patient’s body. As modern research continues to confirm the benefits of gua sha, hopefully it will be utilized more regularly in place of more aggressive forms of treatment with less favorable side effect profiles.
If the reader has questions about how gua sha or acupuncture treatment may be able to help in their particular health challenges, they are welcome to call the center to discuss their situation with the acupuncturist, Mr. Andrew Macfarlane L.Ac. Likewise, he will happily direct you to the scientific references/studies upon request if you wish to learn more. He extends his gratitude to his gua sha teacher, the Western authority on gua sha, Arya Nielsen for her unrelenting efforts to bring this traditional technique into the modern world.
To Your Good Health and Happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane L.Ac
Good sleep quality is one of the most important components of a healthy life, right up there with proper diet and exercise. However, sleep quality in America continues to decline. The National Center for Sleep Disorders Research division of the National Institutes of Health has found that about 30-40% of adults suffer from some degree of insomnia in a given year, and about 10-15% of adults report chronic insomnia. This amounts to millions of people who are not getting proper rest. The harmful effects of insomnia pose a serious threat not only to personal health, but also to society. Amongst these devastating effects are an increased risk of depression, increased risk of poor health and disease, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer, as well as increased risk of accidents and more absenteeism at work.
Treating sleep disorders necessarily requires a multi-pronged approach in order to properly determine the cause of the sleep disorder and to prescribe the proper treatment and lifestyle modifications based on the underlying factors. When sleep disorders are mild, not ongoing, and underlying medical causes have been ruled out, often fairly simple behavioral and lifestyle changes will suffice to regulate the patient’s sleep quality. These recommendations come under the umbrella of sleep hygiene, and include tips such as refraining from caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and spicy foods or heavy meals close to bedtime. Its also important to maintain a regular schedule of bedtime and wake time, and to ensure that the sleeping environment is dark, quiet, and comfortable in temperature. Activities that can cause stress or anxiety should be avoided close to bedtime, and vigorous exercise should only be performed earlier in the day. Even with these and other sleep hygiene recommendations however, many people still suffer from sleep disorders, and in these cases, treatment is often necessary to restore normal sleep.
Conventional medicine often treats sleep disorders with prescription medications, which can offer relief in some cases, but is generally not a good long term solution. Many of these medications are habit forming and addictive, come with potentially dangerous side effects, and can actually disrupt the healthy sleep cycles which occur in normal sleep. Chinese Medicine, and specifically classical acupuncture, has a long history of treating all types of sleep disorders, and can often provide effective relief in a safe and gentle way to even serious and chronic cases of sleep disorders.
In Classical Chinese Medicine, good quality sleep consists of two components: physical rest for the body, and mental quietude for the mind. If either of these two components are disturbed due to various reasons, the sleep quality will suffer. In determining the potential causes of the sleep disorder, the acupuncturist must examine the health state of a number of parameters, most notably the health status of the patient’s blood, the balance of yin and yang in the patient, the condition of the emotions and psyche, acupuncture meridian imbalances, and organic disease states. The acupuncturist gets this information through listening to the patient’s subjective description of their sleep, as well as using Chinese Medical diagnostic tools such as pulse diagnosis and looking at a patients tongue, and observing their general appearance and demeanor.
Acupuncture treatment often begins with two of the constitutional acupuncture meridians, one which regulates circadian rhythms and the duration and timing of sleep, and the other supporting the depth and quality of sleep. These meridians can be thought of as foundational synchronizers which allow the patient’s sleep and wake cycles and sleep quality to return to a more natural state. In Chinese Medical terms, this is known as balancing the yin and yang energetics of the patient, yin energies corresponding to night time, sleep, and quietude, and yang corresponding to daytime, wakefulness, and activity.
Once these constitutional meridians have been rebalanced, if sleep continues to be disturbed, the treatment is then fine tuned to address whatever organic, emotional, meridian imbalance, or other factors may still be contributing to the sleep problems. This stage could also include treating such disturbances as obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, restless leg syndrome, night sweats, or dream disturbed sleep, to name some common issues. Once the underlying factors have been resolved through acupuncture treatment and lifestyle modifications made where necessary, the patient will enjoy rejuvenating, sound sleep once again, and this should be a lasting healing if the factors that led to the sleep problems originally are avoided.
If the sleep problems have been happening for only a short period of time, then usually a short series of treatments will suffice to reverse the trend. If the issue is chronic, however, it will likely require a longer series of regular acupuncture treatments. The specific treatment strategy and treatment plan is always customized to the unique presentation of the individual. For someone who has suffered from a chronic sleep disorder, the benefits that are available are well worth the commitment to the healing process. The integrity of the patient’s health overall will often improve dramatically through a series of treatments.
In closing, regular and restful sleep is an integral factor in healing from all health disorders, as sleep time is the time when the body rests and repairs itself. Quality of life increases tremendously as well once proper sleep patterns are restored. If you or someone you love is suffering from the devastating effects of a sleep disorder, classical acupuncture can offer a safe and effective alternative to conventional therapies in restoring deep and restful sleep.
To Your Good Health and Happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane L.Ac
A Chinese Medical Approach to Seasonal Allergies
One of the most satisfying conditions to treat in the acupuncture clinic is seasonal allergies, as they tend to respond so well and quickly to acupuncture treatment. With the weather getting warmer, its natural to want to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but for many, the symptoms of spring allergies can really hinder our enjoyment of this lovely season. Known as allergic rhinitis, allergy symptoms can include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itchy, red, and/or watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, headache, and fatigue. The symptoms are due to an overactive immune system responding to airborne particles such as grass, weeds, and pollens, and resulting in inflammation and swelling in the nasal mucosa. This swelling can inhibit the proper drainage of the nasal passages, and in turn lead to sinus infections.
Chinese Medical treatment of allergies seeks to provide symptomatic relief to the patient, while identifying and addressing the underlying factors which are at the root of the condition in order to prevent its reoccurrence. According to Chinese Medical theory, the acupuncturist determines which system is imbalanced and then utilizes acupuncture treatments to correct the individual presentation of disharmony. The systems the acupuncturist targets are responsible for the healthy functioning of what is known as wei qi in Chinese Medicine. Wei Qi is our defensive qi, similar to the immune system of Western Medicine. It protects the body from airborne pathogens, and is rooted in the kidneys, supported by the spleen, and dispersed and circulated along the exterior of the body by the lungs. A problem in any of these systems can contribute to allergies. For example, typical western dietary and lifestyle habits such as too much sweets and dairy products, too much cold food and drink, excessive worry, and inappropriate or overuse of antibiotics all damage the spleen, making one vulnerable to allergies. If weakness in the spleen is coupled with constitutional weakness in the lungs and/or kidneys, it becomes more likely that allergies will manifest.
The good news is that acupuncture is highly effective at addressing both the symptoms and underlying causes that accompany allergies. It is not uncommon for patients to experience significant relief of allergy symptoms after just one treatment, and a course of treatments can strengthen the system to make it more resilient to these types of problems resurfacing in the future. The other benefit of Chinese Medical treatment of allergies is that it affords these benefits without the side effects which come along with conventional Western Medical treatment and which many patients find unacceptable.
To Your Good Health and Happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane L.Ac
A Chinese Medical Approach
The inability to conceive can be a very frustrating and emotionally draining experience for both women and men. It is all the more frustrating when conventional western medicine offers no cure or explanation as to why one is unable to conceive. Luckily, Chinese Medicine has a long history of success with fertility issues, for both women and men, even in cases when there is no apparent cause detected by western medical diagnosis. Chinese Medical treatment of infertility is a vast subject. The following article serves as a brief introduction to its views and theories, with an emphasis on female reproductive health.
One of the most important aspects of promoting fertility is regulating a women’s menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle consists of four stages which are manifestations of the cyclical rise and fall of the body’s yin and yang energetics, specifically the yin and yang of the kidneys. The onset of the period is the most yang, energetic aspect, and marks the point of transformation from yang to yin. The onset of ovulation is the most yin time, and the starting point of transformation from yin to yang. The qi of the heart, which needs to be in communication with the kidneys, is responsible for this transformation, and is also involved with the discharge of menstrual blood and eggs.
Pathological changes in menstruation are often rooted in an imbalance in one or more of the four phases of the menstrual cycle. A Chinese Medical practitioner will ask extensive questions of female fertility patients about the regularity of their cycle, the color and thickness of menses, duration of flow, PMS symptoms, presence or absence of clots, pain and cramping, among others. The information gathered from these inquiries often gives a clear indication of the health status of a woman’s blood and reproductive health, and helps the clinician determine what aspect or phase of the menstrual cycle may be out of balance. Each phase of the menstrual cycle has a different treatment principle, and once the cause is uncovered, targeted acupuncture and dietary changes can help to regulate the cycle, reinstating balance. Restoring the health of the menstrual cycle can have a profound impact on a women’s hormonal health and fertility.
It is important to understand the holistic nature of Chinese Medicine, and treating fertility issues is no exception. Causes of infertility often include deficiency of the humors of the body, for example, blood deficiency. The Chinese Medical understanding of blood in the body is a bit broader than Western Medicine, and a patient can have signs and symptoms of blood deficiency without having blood tests show anemia. If there is deficiency in any of the humors of the body, this often points to insufficient functioning of the zang fu, the organs of the body, or insufficient dietary nourishment, as well as possibly other lifestyle and psycho-emotional conditions. As an example, the Liver is responsible for storing the blood in Chinese Medical thinking, and the liver blood needs to nourish the Kidneys in order for the menstrual blood to be formed. If liver blood is deficient, the kidneys will not be nourished and menstruation will be affected, making conception difficult. Likewise, the blood of the spleen is said to nourish the heart in Chinese medicine, which is another important mechanism in fertility. Earlier, we mentioned that the communication between heart and kidneys is critical to the health of the menstrual cycle as well as the discharge of the eggs. If the spleen blood fails to nourish the heart, the communication between the heart and kidneys will likely become compromised. In truth, there may be no deficiency of blood or humors, but rather an obstruction in the communication between organ systems, which will have the same deleterious effects on ability to conceive, but different types of treatment. Chinese Medical pulse diagnosis is essential to determine the extent of communication between organ systems.
Another possible cause of fertility problems in Chinese Medicine is what we call Jing Deficiency, or essence deficiency. Jing is the most essential and fundamental substance that carries us through life. Jing falls in the domain of kidney energetics and can be thought of as our deepest energy reserves. Jing naturally declines with age, but there are other factors that can slow or speed up this decline, including poor lifestyle habits, chronic disease, overindulgence in sex, among others. Acupuncture has much to offer in terms of rejuvenating and preserving the jing essence. Working with the jing takes us into the realm of constitutional energetics, and what are called the eight extraordinary vessels of acupuncture, a meridian system which classical acupuncture excels in utilizing. The eight extra meridians are often very important in the treatment of fertility issues, both in men and women. To strengthen the essence, it is believed that one must be comfortable with their innate nature, which there are specific eight extra meridians that can be tapped into in order to foster this.
To sum up, Chinese Medicine has been shown to be very effective in treating all types of menstrual problems, such as irregular periods, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, clots, spotting, cramping, PMS, etc… In addition to regulating the menstruation, Chinese Medicine can treat hormonal imbalance, endometriosus, uterine fibroids, habitual miscarriage, chronic vaginal infections, and problems of unknown origin, among others, all of which can be implicated in difficulty conceiving.
The various scenarios that have been outlined in this article serve to give the reader a sense of the many issues which need to be looked into when trying to facilitate fertility through Chinese Medical treatment. The strength of Chinese Medicine is its flexibility, its keen diagnostic capabilities, and its ability to give truly individualized treatment. There have been many valid schools of thought that have arisen around fertility treatment in the history of Chinese medicine, some emphasizing more of a meridian approach, others a more organ centered approach, as well as more psycho-emotional approaches. This is very valuable in that if one treatment doesn’t work, there are always other ways to perceive and understand the state of disharmony, allowing for more chance of a successful outcome. Of course, part of the art of Chinese Medicine is discernment in choosing the most suitable course of treatment. Lastly, the reproductive health of the male should not be overlooked, and male fertility difficulties, depending on the cause, are also effectively treated by Chinese medicine.
Wishing you all Health, Happiness, and Ease in your Life!
Andrew Macfarlane L.Ac
A Chinese Medical Approach to Addiction
Unravelling the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Obstacles to Healing
Chinese Medicine has much to offer in the field of addiction treatment. The most well known acupuncture therapy for the treatment of addiction is called the NADA protocol (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association), which approaches the acupuncture treatment of addiction from a very Western Medical perspective. It utilizes the same five auricular (ear) acupuncture points for every patient, and has been found to be quite effective in helping addicts develop sobriety. Although this model is quite effective, it does not take into consideration the theoretical basis of Classical Chinese Medicine, in which treatment is always custom tailored to the individual. The wisdom of Classical Chinese Medicine has the capacity to broaden the potential and effectiveness of acupuncture addiction treatment, addressing the intricacies of each addicts experience, worldview, view of self, and the devastating consequences that addiction so often leads to in all areas of ones life.
The initial psychotropic (consciousness altering) effects of drugs and alcohol are generally perceived as highly euphoric and exhilarating. Most drugs and alcohol, from a Chinese Medical perspective create a tremendous amount of heat in the body, which tends to affect the heart, which is said to house the spirit. Continued use leads to excessive heat in the heart which in turn disturbs the spirit, creating restlessness/anxiety and possibly depression as well. As the addict starts to develop tolerance to their drug of choice, they start to need to use more and more to get the desired effects, and often get to the point where they experience physical symptoms of withdrawal without continued use of the drug. The withdrawal symptoms, from a Chinese medical perspective have more to do with the energetics of the liver, but suffice to say, a vicious cycle of pathology is set in motion as the addict’s life starts to revolve around obtaining and using the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The emotional disharmonies which are often at the root of addictive behavior also tend to create heat in the body, so unfortunately, the combination of the drug use and emotional stagnation create a lot of taxation of the body’s resources. The mental fixation on the drug also inhibits the free flow of qi in the addict, as the addict is constricted in their experience of life. They have in a very real sense lost the ability to ‘go with the flow’ and this causes friction and more heat. On a physical level, the prolonged heat starts to burn up the humors of the body- this can lead to blood deficiency, and what we call yin and yang deficiency, as well as essence deficiency. All these factors of addiction feed into each other and slowly (or quickly) start to break down ones will and sense of purpose in the world. Another factor which is equally as damaging is the self-hatred that tends to arise with addiction- the addict loses respect for themselves and the ability to love themselves, which in turn supports the continued self-destructive behavior. In chronic addiction, a sense of apathy and hopelessness can develop.
There are three main areas in which Classical Chinese Medicine can support the healing of addiction. First of all, in the early stages of sobriety, it can help relieve the intense anxiety, cravings, stress, as well as the physiological counterparts- insomnia, restlessness, night sweats, etc… Second, it can help re-establish the health of the body by clearing the heat and starting to build back up the resources that have been damaged due to abuse. Thirdly, and most importantly, it can address the underlying emotional and spiritual emptiness which led the person to abuse drugs in the first place. At this point, the healing process can be very profound as it can help facilitate an awakening within the patient to let go of the anguish and suffering they have been through, and help raise their consciousness to a new level where they can experience joy and purpose in the world without the aid of drugs or alcohol. This third phase of treatment will likely last some time, and all of these require a sincere desire within the patient to be free from the addiction and a strong support structure in place in his or her life.
A large part of the process of healing addiction is coming to peace with the radical change in lifestyle that is often necessary, and letting go of the sense of personality/ self that was developed as an addict. One of the true gifts of Classical Acupuncture is its ability to give the person an experience of clarity and health, even if its only momentary, to help the patient develop a new response to the same stimulus. Once the patient has had the opportunity to see their life and the world from a different perspective, a seed is planted that can re-instill hope and faith that life can be different. With this renewed sense of hope, there is a concomitant strengthening of the will to take the steps necessary to realize a better life.
I hope this info may be illuminating and helpful to those who may struggle with addiction, or whose loved ones may. Lastly, although this article has focused on recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, it should be mentioned that there are many forms of addiction, such as addiction to food, to sex, to a certain body image, to the internet, etc… Even though these other forms may not always present with such obvious signs of dysfunction in the life, any mental fixation can ultimately compromise our health and keep us from living a life of vibrant joy, peace, and meaning. Classical Acupuncture is one of many effective tools for the unraveling and healing of addiction.
To Your Good Health and Happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane MS, L. Ac
Chinese Medicine has a rich history of supplemental medical therapies that are often used along with acupuncture to enhance treatment. These therapies have a very long history of safe and effective use in China, as well as in many other parts of the world. Cupping, for example, has played an important role in many traditional medical systems throughout the world. Although these therapies may seem a bit antiquated at first to someone brought up in the high tech world of Conventional Western Medicine, they have proven the test of time and can be a very powerful addition to a treatment protocol.
Cupping therapy involves the placement of glass or plastic cups on a patient’s body to create localized pressure by a vacuum. The vacuum is created by heat in the case of glass cups, or suction in plastic cups. Cupping is one of the most effective methods of moving qi and blood and breaking up qi and blood stagnation, making it a highly effective therapy for pain relief. From a western perspective, cupping expands the blood vessels of the skin, thereby increasing blood circulation, and facilitates the flow of lymphatic fluid, helping to remove toxins and strengthening immunity. It is very effective for relieving muscle pain and stiffness, but is not limited to treating pain. Cupping can be utilized for conditions as diverse as the common cold to poor sexual function. Most patients find cupping therapy to be a pleasant experience, and enjoy the benefits it offers.
Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy, most often involving the burning of the herb mugwort over specific areas or acupuncture points of the body. There are many ways in which moxibustion therapy is performed, but one of the most common ways is using a roll of densely packed mugwort which resembles a cigar. The moxa roll is lit at one end and held near an acupuncture point until the patient starts to feel warmth in the area. This is known as indirect moxibustion.
Moxibustion is used in a wide variety of conditions, but most commonly to treat pathologies involving cold or dampness. Moxibustion is very effective in cases of fatigue, as it can tonify the qi and yang of the body. It can also be helpful for pain since it helps to move stagnation. A novel use of moxa which has become popular in the west is the treatment of the complication in pregnancy known as breech baby, where the fetus is not positioned correctly in the womb. Moxibustion to the last point on the bladder meridian, on the little toe, has been shown to be very effective in the case of a breech baby.
Gua Sha is a technique in which a round-edged instrument is rubbed against a patient’s skin, resulting in the appearance of small red petechiae know as ‘sha’ which fade after a few days. It helps to resolve blood stagnation and in doing so, promotes normal circulation and metabolic function. Immediate relief can be experienced from conditions as diverse as pain, fever, chills, cough, stiffness, and others. Gua Sha is especially suitable for upper respiratory issues, acute infections, digestive problems, as well as many other acute and chronic conditions.
Classical Acupuncture Treatment of Migraines
Like all conditions in Chinese Medicine, the treatment of migraine headaches is always custom tailored to the specific signs and symptoms that are manifesting in the presenting patient. For example, there could be ten patients that walk into the clinic on a given day, each suffering from migraines, and the acupuncturist could give ten different treatments to address them. Chinese Medicine is not a one size fits all approach. Chinese Medicine treats the individual. One of the great strengths of this medicine in general, and in the treatment of migraines, is the ability to uncover and treat the root cause of the problem, as opposed to merely offering symptomatic relief. This is not to say that acupuncture cannot treat an acute migraine attack, as it is also very effective in acute situations requiring immediate symptomatic relief. However, migraines almost always point to some deeper layer of disharmony in the body-mind, and until these deeper layers are addressed, any relief will only be temporary.
From a Chinese Medical perspective, most migraine headaches are associated with an imbalance in the energetics of the liver. The liver is arguably the organ and meridian system which is most affected by stress and emotional disharmony. The liver is said to control the free flow of qi throughout the body, and by extension, the free flow of emotions. When someone is under emotional strain and stress, especially in cases of anger and irritability, there is a tendency for liver qi to stagnate, which further agitates the mind. If the qi stagnation is left unchecked, there is a tendency for the stagnation to start to generate heat or fire in the body, what might be though of as inflammation from a western perspective. The nature of heat is to rise, and when this happens, migraines can be the result as the heat rises along the liver meridian and possibly also the paired meridian of the gallbladder and gets stuck in the head. The liver meridian travels to the eyes and the vertex of the head, and the gallbladder meridian travels to the temples and the sides of the head, areas which are commonly affected by migraines.
When the liver is in a state of excess, it can also rebel horizontally to affect the stomach, which accounts for the nausea and vomiting that some people experience with migraines. Likewise, it can affect the spleen, which is an important component in the development of blood in Chinese Medicine. If the spleen is weakened due to an overactive liver or various other reasons, the body’s ability to produce blood will be compromised, which can lead to a state of blood deficiency. The brain requires sufficient blood to nourish all the channels and vessels that it houses, and if blood becomes deficient, this can also be a cause of migraines. In a state of weakness, the spleen will also not be able to perform its functions of transforming and transporting the food and fluids that are broken down by the stomach. With the failure of the spleen to transform and transport fluids, dampness can accumulate in the body. The heat from the liver can then carry the dampness upwards towards the head and cause migraines, often manifesting with a dull throbbing sensation.
In addition to qi stagnation and emotional disharmony, migraines can also arise from an underlying deficiency in the liver or kidneys. If the liver blood, liver yin, or kidney yin are deficient, they will fail to ground and stabilize the liver qi and yang, which once again will flare upwards to the head and manifest with migraines. As you can see, there are quite a wide variety of differential diagnoses involved with the characterization of migraines, often involving a complex web of both excess and deficiency of energy and humors in the body. All these various types of migraines will have different subjective symptoms, as well as objective signs, which allows the acupuncturist to uncover the root problem and treat accordingly, bringing a state of harmony and balance back to the body-mind.
A discussion of migraines would not be complete without mentioning the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this condition. Many things can trigger or encourage migraines in susceptible individuals, and it is important for patients to bring awareness to these possibilities to learn their own particular triggers. The food additive MSG, alcohol (especially red wine), preserved meats with nitrates and nitrites, as well as tyramine-containing foods such as aged cheese, can all contribute to migraines. In addition to these foods, based on the theories of Chinese Medical dietary therapy, chocolate, coffee, and spicy or greasy foods are also often contraindicated in the case of migraines. Dietary changes, when necessary, play an important role in a well rounded approach to migraine treatment. In addition to dietary factors, computer screens, fluorescent or glaring lights, stress and anxiety, excessive or not enough sleep, hormonal changes, and environmental factors can also exacerbate and provoke migraines.
Treating migraines with Classical Acupuncture can offer great relief to even very severe cases of migraine headaches. A multi-pronged approach is devised for each patient to help to re-establish health and harmony, and the patient can be pleased in knowing that they are addressing a fundamental balance of health in their body-mind, while releasing the pain and suffering of the headache itself.
To your good health and happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane MS, L.Ac
Raw Food Diets: A Chinese Medical Perspective
Many of you health savvy people reading this have probably heard about the raw food diet movement in the past few years. Its all the rage these days in the alternative health and nutrition circles, being touted often times as nothing less than a panacea for all that ails you. Proponents of a raw food diet encourage us to eat up to 80%, some say even up to 100% of our foods uncooked, and use terms like ‘living foods’ and ‘life force’ to help support their nutritional claims. What we consume on a daily basis can be a great ally in our quest for better health, or a great obstacle. A proper diet is our daily medicine, so it seems reasonable and necessary to take a critical look at these recommendations, to discern whether there is real value in this type of dietary practice, or whether this is just another passing fad which will ultimately prove at best not very sustainable, and at worst, deleterious to health for the majority of people. Chinese medical dietary therapy, with a successful track record that spans thousands of years, offers some very timely and important insights into the question of whether it is in one’s best interest to adopt a raw food lifestyle.
One of the most important contributions of Chinese medical dietary therapy is a highly detailed theoretical and clinical understanding of the energetic nature of foods. Ancient Chinese physicians devised a very sophisticated dietary science, relying on the power of keen and subtle observation of the nature and actions of foods in the human body. Foods were classified and prescribed to patients based on their thermal nature, their taste, their color, and the organs and/or acupuncture meridians which they affected. In ancient China, dietary therapy was considered a primary medical therapy, and was often utilized before employing therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicine. The prevailing wisdom was that more invasive therapies would only be utilized when dietary therapy was not sufficient to re-establish a state of harmony in the patient’s health. Unfortunately, in our modern times, with the degradation of our food supply and general poor state of health, acupuncture and other therapies have become much more important tools to be used along with diet.
The thermal nature of foods, whether they tend to warm or cool the body, has many factors, but one important factor is whether the food has been cooked. Raw, uncooked foods, even if the particular food in question has a warm thermal nature, tend to be more cooling than the same foods when cooked. When Chinese medicine describes the thermal nature of a food, it is not only the actual temperature of the food, but the metabolic effect that the food has when introduced to the body. For example, watermelon has a very cooling thermal nature regardless of whether it is consumed cold or at room temperature. Chinese medicine always seeks balance in the body as a way of maintaining or re-establishing health. If we eat too much raw foods, especially raw vegetables which are generally cooling, for most people this tends to introduce too much cold into the body which can throw off the delicate balance of health. If you think about it from a very basic perspective, when you eat cold raw food, your body has to expend a good deal of energy just bringing the food to body temperature before it can start the process of digestion. This energy could have been utilized for the digestion itself if the food had not been cold and raw. What happens in this scenario if repeated over time, is that the stomach has to constantly produce large amounts of hydrochloric acid, what we refer to as stomach fire in Chinese medicine, to counteract the cold energetic. If the stomach is always generating large amounts of fire, over time this starts to tax the body’s resources and eventually the stomach fire can burn out. For these reasons, eating cold and raw foods on a regular basis can actually pose quite a challenge to the body and lead to health problems.
Many proponents of a raw food diet talk about how raw foods have a higher nutritional value and more enzymes than the same foods that are cooked. If you take the raw food and the cooked food into the lab and have them analyzed, this is undoubtedly true. However, this argument fails to take into account the full picture of the digestive process. The body also has to assimilate the food that it takes in. It is much more difficult for the body to fully break down raw foods in the digestive tract than cooked foods, and this is especially true if there is any degree of digestive weakness in the individual. When foods are cooked, the food is already in a partially broken down state, which makes it much easier for the body to digest and assimilate. While it is true that some raw foods have enzymes that help with their digestion which are destroyed when cooked, the cumulative impact of all the factors involved often outweigh the benefits of eating these foods raw.
There are certain situations in which a predominantly raw food diet is sometimes recommended in Chinese medical dietary therapy. One such situation is cancer. The nature of cold and raw foods in the body, much like cold in nature, is to contract and slow things down. With an aggressive form of cancer, raw vegetable juices can be utilized as a way of intentionally introducing a cold energetic into the body with the purpose of slowing down or inducing a state of latency of the disease. If a cancer patient does not have enough energy and resources to fully resolve the condition, putting the disease into a temporary state of latency buys the patient time, and the clinician and patient can use that time to help strengthen the patient’s immune system. Only once the patient’s immune system has the capacity to successfully address the disease will the treatment strategy shift to pulling the disease out of latency to be resolved entirely. The body has many built in mechanisms by which diseases can be slowed down or transformed into less life-threatening problems in order to save time and resources, a process which can be supported by dietary therapy and acupuncture. If there is loss of latency without adequate immune function in a disease as potentially serious as cancer, death by auto-intoxication may ensue, as the body simply does not have the capacity to resolve the amount of pathology that is being released.
Another issue worth mentioning in regards to a raw food diet is that there are quite a few people who will actually feel an increase in vitality for some time following this diet. However, there are very few people who can maintain a predominantly raw food lifestyle for very extended periods of time. There is a clear explanation for this if we have an understanding of Chinese medical theory and dietary therapy. The organs and meridians most central to the digestive process in Chinese medicine are the stomach and spleen, which are referred to as the earth element. The earth element is responsible for producing what is called post-natal qi. Post-natal qi is in contrast to pre-natal qi, and is necessary for our daily functioning in life. Pre-natal qi, by contrast, is our deepest energetic reserves which we inherit from our parents and the cosmos at the time of conception. There is a longstanding debate in the history of Chinese medicine whether or not pre-natal qi can be increased or whether you are born with a set amount. Regardless of which is true, it is agreed upon that pre-natal qi is very precious and must be preserved as much as possible.
When a person has a healthy digestive system and eats nutritious foods, post-natal qi is abundant and is sufficient for carrying out the day to day functions that are inherent to life. However, when a person’s digestive system becomes compromised, the pre-natal qi of the kidneys is called upon to support the post-natal qi. One of the ways in which our post-natal qi can be compromised is by taxing the digestive system with too much raw and cold foods. Since the pre-natal qi of the kidneys is the deepest level of energetics in our body, an energy which carries us through our evolution of life from birth to death, it is indeed very potent and precious. Being so potent, as it kicks into gear to support the post-natal qi of the spleen and stomach, many people feel a marked boost of vitality due to the mobilization and combustion of this energetic reservoir. However, our pre-natal qi is not meant to be used for the simple functions of our daily life. The initial boost experienced with a raw food diet, which may last for some time depending on one’s pre-natal qi reservoir, will usually start to wear off as the pre-natal qi starts to become taxed. At this point, it will become very hard to maintain a raw food diet. This is a situation that you want to avoid at all costs, because burning out your pre-natal qi can have very serious implications for your health and wellbeing and especially your longevity. In light of this understanding, Chinese medical dietary therapy usually only recommends a predominantly raw food diet in very specific situations, and certainly not as a diet for general health and wellness. This is by no means saying that a healthy diet cannot contain some raw food, especially during the warmer months of the year, but it is a matter of finding the right balance.
I hope this article sheds some light and possibly clears up some confusion about the issue of a predominantly raw food diet. I understand that this information may be difficult to swallow for some who have adopted or read about this dietary lifestyle. Before learning Chinese Medicine, I was quite convinced of the efficacy of the raw food lifestyle, and I experimented with it a bit. However, I am thoroughly convinced now that this is not a suitable diet for most people, and I have found in myself and in my clinical practice that most people do better with more cooked foods. In closing, I will remind you that Chinese Medicine always tailors treatment to the individual. Although this article explores some general foundations of Chinese medical dietary therapy, it is always best to seek out the advice of a trained clinician to develop a diet that will be most suitable for your particular needs.
To your good health and happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane MS, L.Ac
Working With the Energy of Spring
Classical Acupuncture for Detoxification and Healing of the Liver and Gallbladder
Throughout Chinese history, receiving acupuncture at the time of the change of the seasons has always been an important opportunity to improve the health of the body and mind by harmonizing oneself with the cyclical energies of nature. The ancient Chinese medical sages observed that the human body and mind go through cycles that mirror the cycles of the world around them. When one can flow harmoniously with the cycles of nature, health arises naturally, and likewise, disregarding these cycles leads to poor health and disease. In much the same way that many of us do spring cleaning at this time of year, this is also a potent time to do some internal cleaning too, which Classical Acupuncture can accomplish in a safe, gentle, and effective way.
In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with specific organ systems and acupuncture meridians, in the case of spring, the liver and gallbladder organs and meridians. Acupuncture meridians can be thought of as rivers that run through the body which carry information and vital body humors, connecting and orchestrating the functions of all the various organs and energetic layers of the body. The acupuncture meridians carry qi, which has many meanings and connotations, but for our purposes here, we can understand as the motivating force in our bodies, or that which animates life. The qi energy of the liver and gallbladder is most pronounced during the springtime, and the nature of this energy is to rise, much like the energy of spring which is characterized by new life bursting up out of the dormant soils of winter to start a new life cycle. It is the energy of renewal and new beginnings.
When we think of the functions and pathology of organs in Chinese Medicine, there is some similarity to the understanding of Western Medicine, but there are many functions and pathologies which are unique to Chinese Medicine, due to the understanding of the energies associated with these organs and their respective meridians. For example, dryness of the eyes, or floaters in the field of vision, is often due to a deficiency of liver blood, as the liver meridian travels to the eyes. Or on an emotional level, irritability, frustration, and anger are often associated with imbalanced liver energy. Even the ability to plan our lives smoothly and with wisdom is dependent upon the healthy functioning of the liver’s energy. The gallbladder balances this aspect of the liver with its function of controlling the capacity to make decisions, allowing for the manifestation of the liver’s plans. The upper parts of the gallbladder acupuncture meridian traverses along the shoulder, neck, and along the sides of the head and temples. When gallbladder energy is not balanced, symptoms such as tight neck and shoulders and headaches can manifest.
During springtime, if the liver and gallbladder are not balanced, there is a tendency for superficial symptoms to manifest such as the symptoms mentioned above, as well as dermatological issues, migraines, ringing of the ears, dizziness and more. As a practitioner, I am always amazed during springtime when so many patients coming into the clinic start presenting with wiry pulses (a specific quality of pulse felt during pulse diagnosis, which is often associated with disharmony in the liver and gallbladder). These various symptoms are often due to the natural ascension of qi that happens in springtime, however, if the liver and gallbladder are balanced and harmonized with the rest of the body, instead of these pathological symptoms prevailing, one will just experience this ascension of qi as a sense of joy, creativity, and renewed vitality. Classical acupuncture excels in ensuring this energetic transition happens as smoothly as possible, allowing the patient to minimize any discomfort and take full advantage of the benefits of this potent energetic time.
In order to address these characteristic imbalances that tend to occur at this time, treatment is often geared towards detoxification of the liver and gallbladder systems. There are many ways in which Classical Acupuncture can facilitate detoxification and healing of the liver and gallbladder, with results that are often easily apparent in just a few treatments. It is important to note that acupuncture can facilitate these detoxification treatments while supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways, so the system is not overwhelmed during the detoxification process. Likewise, if someone is quite weak, acupuncture can help support and rejuvenate a patient to the point where they can safely embark upon a detoxification regimen. In addition to the elimination of the symptoms discussed above, many other benefits can be realized through a course of such treatments, including normalization of gynecological functioning, improved digestion, less soreness in the body, improved emotional outlook and release of pent up anger and frustration, and many more.
I invite you to fully embrace the energetic changes that are upon us as we move into this wonderful season of spring, and to take this opportunity to rebalance and revitalize your body and mind through the power and wisdom of Classical Acupuncture. Please take advantage of my special introductory acupuncture offer if this is something you would like to explore.
To your good health and happiness,
Andrew Macfarlane MS, L.Ac